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Arab-Americans Offended By Campaign Trail Slurs
By: Sunni Khalid
BALTIMORE, MD 2008-10-30 Over the last month, campaign rallies for Republican presidential candidate John McCain have been increasingly punctuated by shouts in the background of “terrorist,” “Muslim” and “Arab,” as some supporters of the GOP candidate have used these terms in referring to Democratic rival Barack Obama.
These sentiments came to the fore earlier this month, when McCain took a question from Gayle Quinnell in the audience at a rally in Lakeville, Minnesota:
“I gotta ask you a question. I do not believe in, I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not, he’s uh, he’s an Arab. He’s not? No.”
Senator McCain quickly grabbed the microphone from Quinnell and defended Obama.
“No, ma’am. No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not.” (applause)
Obama is neither an Arab nor a Muslim, despite repeated attempts to portray him as such. But for some members of the Arab-American community, McCain didn’t go far enough because he did not address the derogatory manner in which “Arab” was used.
“I know, and many in the community know that profiling and stereotyping against Muslims and Arabs is there. I think that what happened is that the elections really brought it to the forefront.”
That was Dr. Bashar Pharoan, the president of the Maryland chapter of the American Anti-Arab Defamation Committee, or A-D-C. A local physician and naturalized citizen from Syria, Dr. Pharoan says he’s troubled by the recent tenor of the campaign, where the words “Arab” and “Muslim” have been used interchangeably “terrorist” by some McCain supporters. He saluted recent comments by former Secretary of State Colin Powell denouncing such rhetoric.
Hussein Ibish, a spokesman for the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington, said the failure by the McCain-Palin campaign to specifically condemn anti-Arab and anti-Muslim epithets by their supporters has had a negative impact on Arab-Americans.
“The message that it sends, simply, is that you guys are not Americans. That you’re not really welcome here, or you’re here kind of as second-class or second-rate Americans, at best. You may or may not be tolerated depending on what we, the other Americans, think of you at any given moment, but it’s not like you’re full participants in our society.”
Ibish thinks that these negative tactics could backfire.
“If McCain were to win with this kind or rhetoric behind him, some of his supporters might say, quietly, internally, it works. And I think there might be some people, will be some people who might be encouraged by this to want to make sure that no one in the McCain camp, and the Republican camp, can say that this works. And that everyone’s gonna have to say, well, nothing we tried was really very successful, including the demagoguery about religion and race.”
According to Laila al-Qatami, the communications and cultural director for the A-D-C, there are at least three million Arab-Americans living in the United States. Many are politically active. While most may disagree with U-S foreign policy toward the Middle East, especially regarding Palestine, al-Qatami said most Arab-Americans are no different than other Americans in their concerns over the issues, like the economy.
What is troublesome, added al-Qatami, are concentrated attempts to fan anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment, specifically with the mass, free distribution of a DVD entitled, “The Obsession: Radical Islam Against The West.”
“It was sent through 70 newspapers in key swing states. And really the DVD, itself, just makes those same false connections there that, you know, all Arabs and all Muslims are somehow inherently prone or inclined to violence and can’t be trusted. That DVD was sent with the intention to continue the false association that somehow Barack Obama is an Arab and a Muslim and then shouldn’t be trusted.”
Seven years after the 9-11 attacks, many Arab and Muslim Americans remain concerned about the dangers of stereotyping and what campaign rhetoric could mean for them after next Tuesday’s presidential election.
I’m Sunni Khalid, reporting in Baltimore, for 88-1, WYPR.
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